Assessing Libya’s transition

LibyaMEIThree years after the start of the uprisings that led to the ousting of leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, Libyan efforts to build a stable, cohesive, democratic state have faced repeated setbacks.

At this challenging moment in the country’s transition, The Middle East Institute is pleased to host experts David Mack (The Middle East Institute), Karim Mezran (Atlantic Council) and Fred Wehrey (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) for a discussion about Libya. They’ll be addressing the political and security conditions, steps needed to address the political chaos and divisions afflicting the country, and what more the international community can do to support Libya’s troubled reform process.


Amb. David Mack, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute

Karim Mezran, Resident Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East 

Frederic Wehrey, Senior Associate, Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Charles Dunne (Moderator) Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House, Adjunct Scholar, The Middle East Institute 

When: Wednesday, March 26, 12pm-1:30pm 

Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW,  Washington, DC 20036  


Libya After Qaddafi: balancing optimism with security concerns

libya-free_1835951cAs Libya prepares to draft its new constitution, a new public opinion survey shows that a majority of Libyans balance their optimism about the country’s future with immediate concerns over their personal safety, the National Democratic Institute reports.

A majority of Libyans believe that the country’s situation in three years will be better than before the 2011 uprising and conflict, but in recent months respondents have grown more critical of governing institutions and political leaders. The survey also explores citizens’ opinions on the constitution-drafting process, the General National Congress (GNC) and regional autonomy.

Most Libyans view the GNC, leaders and political parties with increasing negativity, and they are dissatisfied with the quality of public services. Citizens are also placing a greater emphasis on the need to disarm militias as a step toward improving the security situation. Despite these frustrations, Libyans remain optimistic about the country’s future and continue to believe that democracy constitutes the best form of government. The findings also indicate widespread disapproval of regional and tribal leaders’ efforts to pursue regional autonomy.

Some key findings from the poll:

  • Libyans continue to be deeply concerned about the country’s security and stability. The vast majority continue to view disarmament of militias, political stability and personal security as the most important issues.
  • A majority of Libyans do not support claims to regional autonomy. They largely reject the declarations of regional autonomy made by the Cyrenaican Political Bureau in Libya’s East and by tribal leaders in the South. Even within these two regions, majorities disapprove of the declarations. A majority of Libyans also view the seizure of oil production facilities by armed groups as unjustified.
  • One-third of Libyans feel unsafe when traveling to work, school, the mosque and the market. Similarly, only 49 percent feel “very safe” in their own homes and 61 percent feel unsafe when traveling by bus or taxi.
  • Popular support for democracy remains high, with 80 percent saying they believe it is the best form of government. Ninety-one percent of Libyans characterize democracy as involving protection of rights and freedoms or elections. These attitudes are largely unchanged from findings in earlier surveys.
  • Political institutions such as GNC, political parties and political leaders evoke increasingly negative views. Forty-seven percent of Libyans now believe that parties are not necessary for democracy, compared to only 14 percent who held this opinion in May 2013. Political leaders across the board have seen declining favorability ratings, and satisfaction with the GNC has fallen. Sixty-eight percent now describe the GNC’s performance as poor; a 32-point decrease in the congress’ perceived performance rating since May 2013.
  • Among international organizations, the United Nations (UN) is viewed the most favorably by Libyans. Sixty-four percent have a positive view of the UN and 83 percent believe their country should cooperate with the UN to ensure political stability and security.


    libyagncThe 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi by internationally backed rebel groups has left Libya’s new leaders with a number of post-conflict challenges, including establishing security, building political and administrative institutions, and restarting the economy, says RAND researchers Christopher S. Chivvis, Jeffrey Martini. Their new report assesses these challenges, the impact of the limited international role in efforts to overcome them, and possible future roles for the international community. 

    Lack of Security

    Libya’s most serious problem since 2011 has been the lack of security. Insecurity has had negative repercussions across the spectrum. It has undermined efforts to build functioning political and administrative institutions, further constricted an already minimal international footprint, and facilitated the expansion of criminal and jihadist groups within Libya and the wider region.

    Stalled Statebuilding

    The lack of security has greatly undermined an already difficult statebuilding process in Libya, where the post-Qaddafi state was very weak politically and administratively. To begin with, Libya’s constitutional process has not kept pace with the schedule originally set out during the war. That schedule aimed to provide Libya with a constitution within a year of liberation. More than two years after Qaddafi’s death, however, the constitutional drafting committee has yet to begin its work.

    Meanwhile, groups in the eastern province of Cyrenaica have seized control of oil facilities there and threatened to create an autonomous state-within-a-state. Islamist and revolutionary groups have forced the passage of a political isolation law that excludes many Libyans from participation in government, thus exacerbating existing rifts in society and reducing the available pool of talent for government positions. The General National Congress, which was elected in July 2012, has been deeply divided over many issues.

    In general, Libyan public administration is in very poor shape and capacity building is sorely needed to strengthen the state. Public confidence in the democratic political process has declined as frustration has mounted. In the absence of a national state, regional and tribal substate actors have strengthened and will likely seek to hold onto their entrenched power.

    Economic Challenges

    Oil production restarted quickly in the aftermath of the war and has allowed Libya to avoid some of the most serious choices that post-conflict societies face because it could fund reconstruction and pay salaries to many groups, including militias. With the armed takeover of many of Libya’s oil facilities in the summer of 2013, however, the stability of Libya’s economy—including the ability of the government to continue to pay salaries indefinitely—was drawn into question.

    Upping International Role

    Despite a significant investment of military and political capital in helping the Libyan rebels overthrow Qaddafi, international actors have done very little to support Libya’s post-conflict recovery to date. ….International actors have recently started increasing their efforts in Libya somewhat. More should have been done and still needs to be done, however. The United States and its allies have both moral and strategic interests in ensuring that Libya does not collapse back into civil war or become a safe haven for al Qaeda or other jihadist groups within striking distance of Europe.

    In contrast, if Libya sees gradual political stabilization under representative government and constitutional rule, the United States and its allies would benefit from Libya’s energy and other resources. The region as a whole would also be much stronger.

    Improvements will take time, but despite its current challenges, Libya still has many advantages when compared with other post-conflict societies. Notably, it can foot much of the bill for its post-conflict needs—even if it currently lacks the administrative capacity to manage complex payments to foreign entities.

    The Way Forward

    There are four areas that international actors should focus on while looking ahead:

    Support a National Reconciliation Process

    The most serious problem in Libya today is continued insecurity, which impedes political and other advances and could wipe them out altogether. Absent an international peacekeeping force, which should be considered but would be difficult under current circumstances, the best way to improve security is to engage Libyans in a national reconciliation dialogue. Such a process could facilitate disarmament, complement constitution making, and increase international actors’ access to information about the capabilities and intentions of key Libyan groups.….

    Strengthen Libya’s National Security Forces

    Insecurity in Libya is partially attributable to a lack of reliable national security forces. International actors are well placed to help remedy this lacuna, and Libya is prepared to foot the bill. Recent U.S. and European efforts to train a so-called “general-purpose force” of approximately 15,000 over the next several years will help. The effort should proceed in parallel with reconciliation and strike a balanced representation of Libyan society, lest individual groups perceive the training as being directed against them and revolt. …

    Help Libya Strengthen Border Security

    Border security remains a major challenge. The porousness of Libya’s borders and their susceptibility to smuggling and the circulation of criminals and jihadists will continue to undermine Libyan and broader regional security. Improvements will take time and require building institutional capacity within the Libyan state as well as investments in monitoring capabilities, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms. …

    Help Libya Build Its Public Administration

    The personalistic nature of the Qaddafi regime left Libya with a severe lack of public administrative and bureaucratic structures. International actors are well positioned to help Libya improve its public administration, especially if the security situation improves. The EU and its member states are in a particularly good position for this task, due to their proximity to Libya…..


Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law

libyastanfordNearly three years after the fall of the Qaddafi regime, Libya’s revolution has stalled. Militias continue to run rampant as the government struggles to perform basic functions. Theoretically to protect the revolution, Libya in 2013 passed its Political Isolation Law (PIL), effectively banning anyone involved in Qaddafi’s regime from the new government. The law has raised serious questions: Does it contribute to effective governance and reconciliation? Does it respect human rights and further transitional justice? Will it undermine Libya’s prospects for a successful democratic transition?

In a new Brookings Doha Center-Stanford “Project on Arab Transitions” Paper titled “Personnel Change or Personal Change? Rethinking Libya’s Political Isolation Law,” Roman David and Houda Mzioudet examine the controversy over Libya’s PIL and the law’s likely effects. Drawing on interviews with key Libyan actors, the authors find that the PIL has been manipulated for political purposes and that its application is actually weakening, not protecting, Libya. They caution that the PIL threatens to deprive Libya of competent leaders, undermine badly needed reconciliation, and perpetuate human rights violations.

David and Mzioudet go on to compare the PIL to the personnel reform approaches of Eastern European states and South Africa. Ultimately, they argue that Libyans would be better served if the PIL were replaced with a law based on inclusion rather than exclusion and on reconciliation rather than revenge. They maintain that Libya’s democratic transition would benefit from an approach that gives exonerated former regime personnel a conditional second chance instead of blindly excluding potentially valuable contributors.

The paper was produced as part of the Brookings Doha Center -Stanford University Project on Arab Transitions. The project aims to generate comprehensive analysis of the conditions affecting democratization and good governance during the period of Arab transition.

You can view the paper online here or download the full paper (PDF) in English here or Arabic here.

Roman David is a professor at the Department of Sociology and Social Policy, Lingnan University, Hong Kong. For the past fifteen years David has worked in several areas of transitional justice, including lustration, victim reparation, truth commissions, international tribunals, and apologies in a number of countries. He is the author of Lustration and Transitional Justice (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Houda Mzioudet is a Tunisian journalist currently working in Libya. She covered the first democratic elections in Tunisia, the liberation of Tripoli in August 2011, the first democratic elections in Libya, and other events in both Tunisia and Libya.

As Qaddafi’s son extradited, diplomats try to stabilize Libya’s transition

libyagncWorld diplomats are working to help Libya create a stable government amid violence and growing political tensions that have festered since former President Moammar Qaddafi’s regime crumbled in 2011, AP reports:

Today’s meeting of foreign ministers, mostly from the West and Gulf states, focused largely on easing disagreements among Libya’s diverse tribal, religious and ethnic populations, looking toward writing a new constitution.

Niger today extradited Saadi el-Qaddafi, the third son of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, back to Libya, where he is accused of participating in the corruption and abuses of his father’s 40-year rule, the New York Times reports:

The transitional government in Libya has sought Mr. Qaddafi and other fugitive members of his family since rebels toppled his father three years ago. The transitional government has shown little progress in building a credible or independent judiciary that might handle such high-profile cases, to say nothing of the problems it has found in creating a professional army, police force or prison system.

A blockade of Libya’s eastern Hariga oil port…one of many involving oil facilities of the OPEC country that have contributed to a cut in petroleum output to 230,000 bpd from 1.4 million bpd in July…. highlights the chaos in the North African oil producer since the fall of Gaddafi, and the complications for its fragile government in overcoming protests holding its vital oil industry hostage, Reuters reports.

LIBYAFLAGLibyans have expressed mixed views on proposals on transitional arrangements over the next 18 months, which among other things calls for direct election of the president and parliament, reports suggest.

The February Committee, a 15-member body created by Libya’s General National Congress (GNC) to propose amendments to the country’s 2011 Constitutional Declaration and pave the way for parliamentary and legislative elections, presented a report with at least 57 recommendations to the GNC on March 4, according to a Libya-based democracy assistance group:  

Given a mandate to flesh out the GNC’s controversial roadmap for the continued transitional period, the February Committee is comprised of six elected GNC members and nine non-elected members, predominantly jurists. The committee’s creation was largely in response to mounting public dissatisfaction with GNC performance and demands that its members step down rather than extend their ill-defined mandate.  

The report — presented as draft legislation — recommends that a future elected House of Representatives be based in Benghazi. Libya’s next president would be directly elected and would appoint the prime minister. The president would have limited executive authority as head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces, and in most decision-making instances would be required to consult with the prime minister or obtain consent from the House of Representatives. In reality, executive powers could be fairly significant if the choice of prime minister is solely at the president’s discretion.

Some members of the GNC say that the report only contains recommendations that require congressional debate and the opportunity to amend before passage into law. However, there is growing urgency for the GNC to elaborate a clearer path forward. Even as pressure on the body to step down intensified over the past several weeks, many Libyans also realize that the country needs a legislative body to oversee the constitution-drafting process, as well as the holding of a constitutional referendum and subsequent elections.

But public patience is wearing thin and further delays in moving toward elections will be viewed unfavorably as attempts by the GNC to extend its tenuous term in office. The GNC plans to debate the February Committee’s proposals during its next plenary session on March 9. However, other pressing agenda items scheduled for the same session, including debate over a no confidence measure on Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and a proposed amendment to the interim constitution to ensure the rights of ethnic minority communities may prevent the GNC from reaching a decision on the committee’s proposals.

libya-free_1835951cThe February Committee worked in near isolation, declining calls for meetings and repeatedly promising to publish updates online. The group appeared to take its assignment seriously, especially regarding clarity over the extent of presidential authority.  The GNC may further refine presidential prerogatives as it clarifies processes, including those for: selecting the prime minister; signing laws into force, declaring states of emergency and war; and conducting cabinet meetings.

The 13 “authorities” of the president, listed on the GNC public information page, are as follows:

1) Represents the country in international relations.

2) Power to select a prime minister.

3) Acts as the Supreme Commander in Chief of the Libyan Army.

4) Power to appoint or dismiss the Chief of Intelligence Services with consent of the House of Representatives.

5) Appoints ambassadors and representatives to international organizations, based on proposals from (on the recommendation of) the Foreign Minister.

6) The authority to appoint or dismiss senior civil servants or state employees in consultation with the Prime Minister.

7) Receives credentials of foreign ambassadors and representatives to Libya.

8) Issues laws which are passed by the House of Representatives.

9) Signs international conventions and treaties, which then must be approved by the House of Representatives.

10)  Declares state of emergency and war, and takes exceptional measures after approval from the council of defense and national security. An approval from the House of Representatives must also be taken in 10 days’ time.

11)  Heads meetings of the government when he attends them.

12)  Dismisses the Prime Minister in consultations with the House of Representatives, and also dismisses government ministers in consultations with the Prime Minister.

13)  Any other powers stipulated by the constitutional declaration and law.

Violence and low turnout mar Libya’s troubled vote

libyaflagSlightly more than a million Libyans went to some 3,800 polling stations today to elect 58 members of a constitutional assembly, or “committee of sixty” as it is called locally, which will draft the country’s first constitution since 1951. Voters chose from among 559 candidates purposely without political party representation, to help guarantee the independence of the elected body, Al-Monitor reports.

But the vote was marred by overnight bomb attacks and minority boycotts.

Only a third of 3.4 million eligible voters had registered to vote, Deutsche Welle notes. Running for the intended 60-member assembly are 649 contenders, including 73 women.

Precious little has been achieved in Libya since the war that killed Colonel Qaddafi and ended his 42 years of autocratic rule, Carlotta Gall reports for the New York Times:

The country held its first free elections amid much euphoria in 2012, creating a General National Congress that then appointed a new government.

But both bodies have come under criticism for failing to manage the country effectively. Security is deteriorating amid growing corruption and perceived incompetence, and the Congress has been frequently gridlocked by a strong divide between Islamist parties and the more liberal groups that are nervous about the growing power of the Islamists.

“People are saying: ‘What happened?’ ”said Claudia Gazzini, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, who is based in Libya. Disillusioned with the lack of progress, Libyans are disinclined to come out and vote, she said. “They are saying: ‘I’m not going to dip my hand in the ink this time.’ ”

Yet there is much to debate in writing a new constitution for Libya, Gall adds. Earlier constitutions, from 1951 when the country was a monarchy, and an amended version from 1963, are outdated. After Colonel Qaddafi seized power in 1969, he ignored the Constitution and ruled by a series of odd and draconian laws, some of which are still in force.

“The new constitution will have to determine the shape of the new regime, whether the state of Libya will be centralized or decentralized,” said analyst Marine Casalis.

“Another key issue is the place of sharia. Most Libyans want sharia to be part of the constitution. But what will be important to see is whether it is the unique source of legislation or one of the sources of legislation,” she added.

Security tops Libyan concerns

“The authorities have barely any control of the territory,” said Casalis. “Even in the capital, in October, the prime minister, Ali Zeidan, was kidnapped in Tripoli. We also saw fighting between militias in the very heart of the capital. The authorities have even less control in the rest of the territory – especially in the South and the East.”

By the end of the day, Libya will have its constitutional assembly, and hopefully it will be able to deliver a document by its four-month mandate, writes Mustafa Fetouri, an independent Libyan academic and journalist.

“Any document risks remaining just that, however, unless Libya manages to overcome the little messes that have plagued the nation for the last three years. A constitutional document will help move things forward, but it is neither a guarantee of stability nor a prerequisite to a unified and strong Libya,” he argues in Al-Monitor.

“There’s no doubt a new constitution is a must have,” said Muhammad Toumi, a law professor and lawyer who is a candidate from Tripoli for the constitutional assembly. “There is no constitution that defines the rights and duties of citizens and the freedoms of citizens, what will be protected, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion.”

“There are so many values that need to be defined for Libyans — how their country will be governed, what form of legislature and government, and what will be their limits and responsibilities,” he tells the Times:

Libyans had no interest in returning to a monarchy, he said, but there would be debate over a presidential system or a mixed one with a president and a prime minister, which Mr. Toumi favors. He said he was undeterred despite surviving a bomb attack on his car in January for which he blamed Islamic extremists who did not want to see a constitutional democracy in Libya.

Yet, after more than four decades under the domineering rule of Colonel Qaddafi, Libyans will need time to learn how democracy works, said Abdulaziz Hariba, a member of the Congress. “Under a dictatorship, you always wait for someone to tell you what to do,” he added. “It takes time to adapt.”

The elections came just after two powerful militias “threatened on Tuesday to dissolve the General National Congress (GNC),” which Al-Jazeera called “a reminder of the country’s political fragility,” the Project for Middle East Democracy notes:

UN Special Representative Tarek Mitri warned similarly that the militias’ actions threatened “the stability of Libya and the political process.”

This morning, at least four bombs detonated in Tripoli, damaging 4 Libyan polling stations. Carlotta Gall reported that Libyans are “disillusioned with the lack of progress.” She also quoted Claudia Gazzini, a senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Libya, as saying that rather than coming out to vote, Libyans are saying, “I’m not going to dip my hand in the ink this time.”

The International Foundation for Electoral Systems’ publication “Elections in Libya: The Constituent Assembly for the Drafting of the Constitution” reported that 1,101,025 Libyans registered to vote in the Constituent Assembly elections. The IFES election guide also says that, according to Libyan law, preliminary results must be reported within 10 days of the election, with final results reported with 25 days.

Ahead of the elections, the United States reiterated its support for the Libyan government. Deputy State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said, “Obviously, we are close partners with the Libyan Government as they are going through their democratic transition, as we are helping them work to build their capacity both on the governance side, but also on the security side… Obviously we fully support the transitional, democratic process, the one that was outlined in their constitutional declaration from 2011, and believe that the use of force is not a legitimate means to divert this democratic transition.”

Analysts and legislators warned that drafting the constitution would take longer than the four months now allotted. “There are so many things individuals can blow up,” said Diederik Vandewalle, a professor from Dartmouth College who is part of an expert mission following the elections in Libya.

Nevertheless, he predicted the constitutional assembly would gain traction. “This has not degenerated into a civil war,” he said. “Libyans are still talking to each other.”

POMED is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.